Enthralling tournament whets appetite for 2010 World Cup


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) – As the curtain fell on an outstanding two weeks of Confederations Cup action on Sunday, South Africa will be hoping for a repeat performance when it hosts the continent’s first World Cup in 12 month’s time.

Brazil’s stirring comeback to snatch a 3-2 victory over the United States in the final was a fitting conclusion to a positive tournament played out before a passionate public, where 44 goals were scored in 16 matches.

Thrown into the mix was the United States’ stunning 2-0 upset victory over European champions Spain in the semi-finals, a feat the Americans almost surpassed when they led Brazil by the same score at halftime in the final.

However, in the words of U.S. coach Bob Bradley “Brazil showed just why they are Brazil” with three goals in the second half to retain the trophy and install themselves as early favourites to lift a sixth World Cup next year.

Luis Fabiano’s brace and a thundering header from skipper Lucio completed Brazil’s tally of 14 goals in five matches after Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan had threatened to give the U.S. a stunning victory in their a first global tournament final.

Whether it was the incessant sound of the vuvuzela creating a surreal atmosphere in the stadiums or the fact that playing in South Africa took away home advantage for the “bigger” teams, most matches were open and featured end-to-end play.

After making a slow start to the competition, the U.S. played without fear against Spain or Brazil, indicating the World Cup could produce even more surprises next year.

During the tournament, Spain registered a world-record equalling run of 35 matches without defeat and were favourites to reach the final, but their loss to the U.S. showed nothing can be taken for granted in their quest for a first World Cup triumph.

Fernando Torres’ 11-minute hat-trick in their opening 5-0 defeat of New Zealand was among the competition’s highlights, as was Egypt’s astonishing fightback in their 4-3 loss to Brazil.

Egypt went one better in their next match and the 1-0 victory over world champions Italy was not only the first win for an African side against the Azzurri but also served as a warning to Marcello Lippi over the strength of his current squad.

The Italian coach will be even more concerned about the ageing side’s ability to defend their title when they were humiliated days later by a rampant Brazil, who tore them apart with a three-goal burst in eight minutes either side of halftime.

The Italian media have urged Lippi to develop younger players before the finals, although 35-year-old skipper Fabio Cannavaro looks set to add to his record-equalling 126 caps for his country.

Although the opening match between hosts South Africa and Iraq got the tournament off to a slow start with a 0-0 draw, the hosts did enough to impress the likes of Franz Beckenbauer that if they found a decent striker they could do well next year.

Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup with West Germany as a player in 1974 and coach in 1990, said they could be among the favourites after playing well to hold Brazil for 88 minutes in the semi-final before eventually losing 1-0.

Off the pitch, the major controversy was trumpeted in by the vuvuzela, the horn blown incessantly by fans throughout matches in South Africa.

International broadcasters outside South Africa complained it was interfering with commentaries and viewers moaned about its unremitting din, but FIFA president Sepp Blatter said there were no plans to ban it next year.